And the best free audio DAW for Windows is… Linux MultiMedia Studio?!?!? January 9, 2009Posted by oktyabr in cross platform, make music, screenshots, software.
YES! That is right! Linux MultiMedia Studio, or “LMMS” as it’s more often called, now has a very nice Windows port!
Quoting from their website LMMS aims to be “a free cross-platform alternative to commercial programs like FL Studio®, which allow you to produce music with your computer.” And FL-studio users will feel right at home with LMMS and with no sting in the pocketbook either…
It’s easy for me to assume that someone reading this already has an interest in making music on a computer and probably some experience dealing with compositional software but I’ll touch the basics here for those of you that might be new to the “hobby”.
Digital Audio Workstations, better known as “DAWs” in the appropriate circles, is software that once installed on your computer allows you to create a musical composition that when done can be transformed into a .WAV file for burning to a CD or any number of other music formats like .wma or the ever imbiguous .mp3 files. The term “DAW” is loosely applied to many different software titles with varying levels of capabilities and features. In general a “DAW” should be able to take your creation from start to finish without the use of any other software. You can kind of think of a DAW as a swiss army knife for audio.
A key feature in most DAWs is “sequencing” or the arrangement of clips of sound and/or MIDI tracks to produce a song. This used to be (and still is, to some degree) a territory ruled by dedicated audio and MIDI sequencers but most modern DAWs these days sequence at least audio quite well. LMMS and FLstudio, the software it aims to emulate, are both excellent sequencers for audio and MIDI use and both are “pattern based” sequencers following in the footsteps of the first “tracker” sequencers like ImpulseTracker and FastTracker.
Song composition in both of these softwares is done by first arranging notes set to a given tempo in modular fashion by clicking beats on or off with your mouse in a “beat+bassline editor” (as it’s called in LMMS), similar to most pattern based drum machines. You can add additional tracks to this editor and each track might be a different drum sound for example. A second instance of this editor, also referred to as “editor module” for this article, might contain lyrics or the instruments producing melody and so on. These editor modules are then arranged in a master “Song editor” in a similar fashion. When the “song” is played a single block on the song editor triggers the sounds (or pattern of sounds) in the respective editor module.
One of this method of song creation’s biggest strengths is that once you have completed several editor modules you can arrange them and reuse them any way you like in your overall song. It is also very easy to rearrange a “song” without having to recreate your beats and basslines from scratch too. I think a good analogy might be thinking of the individual sounds as letters, the editor modules as words made of those letters and the song perhaps as a whole sentence or paragraph.
In regards to MIDI this style of sequencing is also very powerful in that you can try different instruments with the same arrangement of MIDI codes and then shuffle them around in your “song” with ease. Of course both LMMS and FLstudio are very capable MIDI sequencers… both have “piano roll editors” with similar editing abilities and tools, both work well with real MIDI keyboards plugged into your computer, both can import entire .mid tracks!
One of the most powerful and valuable features of a DAW like these is the ability to import and host VSTi, or “Virtual Studio Technology instruments” into your composition. VSTi are exactly what the ancronym might imply… a single VSTi might be designed to emulate a plucked string instrument, another a grand piano and so on. These are self contained virtual instruments that only need a software, in this case a DAW, to host them and send them signals to trigger individual notes. Until recently most Windows users were pretty much consigned to spending money to get a DAW with VSTi hosting abilities. The linux side of the tunnel was even dimmer with sketchy VSTi support having to be compiled in a custom build due to iffy restrictions on the use of sourcecode. This most recent build of LMMS, v4.2.0, provides true VSTi support for BOTH it’s Windows and linux versions through the use of LMMS’s very own “VeSTige” VSTi plugin handler and it seems to work very, very well!
Of course both of these DAWs have many other features too including FX and filters that can be chained together, automation of controls (FLstudioś automation is still far more advanced), a series of samples and plugin instruments right “out of the box”, and both feature fairly modern and attractive looking user interfaces.
One thing still missing from LMMS and present in FLstudio is the ability to record sound directly into the software, such as from an electric guitar, standalone hardware synth module or microphone. FLstudio, it should be noted, actually includes many different tools that are missing from LMMS but let’s remember that FLstudio includes them because they can charge you money for the software and thus want you buying and using their software, their tools! The LMMS project, on the other hand, is free software in both senses of the word and thus the developers don’t feel compelled to reinvent the wheel, at least it’s not a priority… why spend the time and programming resources to incorporate wav recording and editing into the program when very nice standalone softwares like Audacity already exist? It is easy to record your audio into Audacity, edit it to your heart’s content and then import it into LMMS, and only requires a two or three more mouse clicks that using the similar features found in FLstudio.
All in all LMMS is growing rapidly into a solid alternative to FLstudio and other software like it and is already quite capable, if not entirely crash-free (save often, no matter what software you use!) As far as *free* DAWs go in Windows I can’t even think of a comparible competitor to LMMS, much less a superior project. The linux side of things is a bit different but even there LMMS pulls a good lead with it’s solid, native VSTi support. If you have been looking at FLstudio and the like with interest I highly encourage you to give LMMS a try before breaking out the pocket book.
The LMMS homepage has a bit of useful documentation to help get you going and even Youtube has more than a few useful tutorials on using the software but probably the best way is to just fire it up, load an example song and play with it a bit. Enjoy!
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